White Noise explained: the movie meaning and the title

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White Noise is a movie directed by Noah Baumbach and released on Netflix in 2022. Starring Adam Driver and based on the book of the same name written by Don DeLillo in 1985, the film represents an interesting perspective on society and humankind. The meaning of the movie, the reason why “white noise” was chosen as a title, the plot, and the ending need to be explained to have a complete understanding. In this article, we will provide all answers.

You can watch the official trailer for White Noise here on Youtube.

The plot and the ending, explained

White Noise follows the life of professor Jack Gladney over a period of one year. He’s married to Babette, and they have four children in total. Their life goes on happily: we can see Jack and Babette often immersed in chaotic conversations about single aspects of the world, where everybody provides their personal opinions and where people don’t seem to arrive at any greater conclusion. However, from time to time, Jack and Babette touch on some important meanings of life: how grateful they are for what they have and how they fear death.

The sequence of events in White Noise has two major phases: the first milestone is the “Airborne Toxic Event” that occurs in the first half, where a massive emergency forces the population in that area to extreme conditions: they will have to leave their home, escape their town and find shelter in different places, because of a toxic cloud on their heads. It will last some days, after which life will return to normality. But Jack discovers that the toxic substance contaminated him, and he will die because of it, even though he doesn’t know exactly when (it will take years anyway).

With this knowledge, Jack faces a new issue in his family: his wife Babette is having severe cases of memory loss, and the daughter Denise believes it depends on a drug she takes secretly, named Dylar. He tries to discover more about this drug, but it seems to be a very experimental drug nobody knows anything about. One night, Jack confronts Babette directly about it, and she confesses what happened: some months earlier, she felt she “had a condition” and joined an experimental trial for that new drug. Her participation occurred in a private agreement with Mr. Gray, the project manager of the drug trial: she would have sex with him regularly in exchange for those pills, supposed to treat her condition. Babette defines her condition as fear of death: the Dylar drug was supposed to dissolve the human fear we all have to die.

The movie ending gets more oniric and surreal. First, Jack goes to the motel where Mr. Gray is and tries to kill him. He gets shot too, Babette shows up, and the two bring Mr. Gray, wounded, to a hospital run by German nuns. They save Mr. Gray, and in that hospital, Jack and Babette have a meaningful discussion with the nuns about the afterlife, heaven, death, and the meaning of life. Apparently, the nuns don’t believe in God or heaven, but the nun speaking with them explains that somebody in the world needs to believe, or pretend to. Otherwise, the world turns into hell.

Jack and Babette come out from that night transformed. In the ending scene, we see them dancing to LCD Soundsystem’s song New Body Rhumba. This is the moment where the viewer doesn’t understand what the movie is about, what’s the meaning of the ending and what’s the message conveyed by White Noise: let’s have everything explained separately.

The meaning of White Noise: what’s the movie about, and why this title?

After all, White Noise is a movie about life, death, and fear, and its plot has explained to us how to deal with all this. We can clearly see in it an analysis of how people’s behavior changes drastically if they are scared: the reconstruction of the rise of Nazism and how the crowd supported it, the reaction of the family during the toxic cloud emergency, the obsession for control, the need for safety… these are all different faces of the human nature in front of fear.

Both Jack and Babette have a great fear of dying. Babette ends up trying a risky, experimental drug that promises to cure this fear. Jack will obsessively try to take the same pill after discovering he is contaminated. Talking about death never solved their fear: all the deep conversations of the movie’s first half never arrived at any meaningful point.

What happened that night, though, will change Jack and Babette. Jack tries to kill Mr. Gray, following a concept that grew inside him: an act of violence, killing someone, can exorcise our fear of dying. Somebody considers Mr. Gray as a symbol that represents death, and this way, we can interpret that scene as Jack trying to kill death and then deciding to save it because he’s no longer afraid of it. Independently of this, what happens after that could have been more resolutive regarding their change of perspective.

The conversation with the atheist nun makes them understand something crucial: there is no solution to the fear of death. The most natural thing to do is to accept death as something that will arrive, and usually, people deal with this awareness through faith: they start believing that there is something greater after death, which eases the burden that death brings in life. However, the nun is not suggesting they necessarily believe in God or heaven: she instead recommends to start believing in each other.

With this awareness, Jack and Babette begin living their lives differently: believing in something. And life, with all the single aspects it shows us, is the closest and easiest thing to believe in. This is, metaphorically, the meaning of the dance in the ending scene: a celebration of life as something that exists with no doubts, something you can believe in, acquiring a level of faith that will teach you not to fear death any longer.

By believing in reality and loving their life, Jack and Babette stop fearing death. The grocery store at the ending is a symbol of ordinary life, with all its superficial aspects: even though there is no deep meaning behind it, these are the things of life that provide stability, safety, and will serve as a distraction from the burden of death.

This is also the meaning of the title, White Noise, explained: as we know, white noise is a background noise, typically produced by modern society, that can annoy or disturb us. Metaphorically, the white noise in the movie is the distraction that the futile things of life can provide us, through which we can win our fears and anxieties. You can also interpret the white noise as the constant voice inside ourselves that reminds us that we will have to die: in both perspectives, the movie and book title summarizes the message it wants to convey.

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